Nearly every time the sons of Raymond Decker went in public, people seemed to know who they were. There was a common thread that seemed to connect these strangers, both younger and older: Raymond Decker helped deliver them at birth.
Dr. Raymond Decker spent much of his career at Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane and left a mark on the medical community before he died July 28 at the age of 82 of a heart attack, said Jed Decker, the second-oldest of Raymond’s three sons.
They don’t know for sure, but Jed and Tommy Decker, the youngest of Raymond’s sons, estimated their father delivered anywhere from 7,000 to 10,000 babies during his career of more than 50 years.
“There is an incredibly thick file folder of cards and letters that he received from patients, doctors, nurses and professionals that he had worked with, and it was pretty obvious that he had a very profound impact on the medical community in Spokane,” Tommy Decker said. “And there are a lot of people that know him just because they were born by him.”
Raymond Decker was born in 1938 in Great Falls, Montana, and graduated from nearby Dutton High School located in Montana’s Golden Triangle wheat country. He then studied medicine at St. Louis University and decided to enlist as a medical doctor in the U.S. Navy after his graduation in 1964. He married Bernadette Beuttler in 1965.
In the 1970s and ’80s, Decker worked at Sacred Heart in Spokane. He was skilled at evolving with modern technology, Tommy Decker said, and helped “trailblaze” fertility surgery and laser technology meant to help those who wanted to add to their families.
Though he decided to retire in 1987 because he felt medicine had become more interested in serving corporate interests, Jed Decker said his father never stopped working. He transitioned from a practicing doctor to a mentor for those he worked with after moving to Olympia in the ’90s, Jed Decker said.
Raymond Decker was able to focus on his interests after his first retirement. He worked as a locum tenens doctor, which allowed him to practice medicine and travel across the country, and then spent the rest of his career in midwife clinics before he retired fully.
“His heart and soul was in medicine and bringing life into the world,” Jed Decker said.
After he retired, their father spent more time fishing and camping in his home state of Montana. He also heavily valued time with his family, Tommy Decker said.
His son-in-law Robert McDonough said he remembered a moment at his and Tommy’s wedding when Raymond spontaneously asked Tommy to sing Neil Diamond’s song “Sweet Caroline” with him.
“The entire room was just immersed with love and it was just pretty incredible. … His stature was small but he was a giant,” McDonough said. “He could command an entire room. Everybody wanted to know him, and he wanted to know everybody. He wanted to know everybody’s story. Those are the things that I remember most about him, just an incredibly kind human being.”
When Raymond had a heart attack in July, the Decker family had just begun to process another crippling loss in their family – the death of Raymond’s oldest son Mathew J. Decker, who suffered a stroke and died in June.
Within a month, Jed Decker, said they lost two-fifths of their core family. It turned a hard summer into one that was nearly unbearable. Tommy Decker said they did what felt most natural – they spent more time with other family members and held on to each other in the fog of grief.
“He spent his whole life teaching us how to be adults and how to be caring human beings, how to be independent, how to be responsible members of society, how to give back and how to care for others,” Tommy Decker said. “He for so long modeled and taught us how to do that. We can do it without him. We want him, but his job was to train us to be able to live when he’s gone. And he taught us those lessons, that once we get out of the fog, we move on.”
A celebration of life service is scheduled for 3 p.m. Friday, Sept. 17 at the Federal Way Performing Arts and Event Center in Federal Way.
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